Meg’s White Skates
Noriko Ohsada (+Video)
Noriko Ohsada has newly arrived from Japan when her first baby is born. When she learns that baby Meg has Down’s Syndrome, she is devastated. The family moves to Bow River, where they discover that Meg has a special talent. She tries on her first pair of skates, and her joy is obvious. Soon the family discovers that Meg’s talent will carry her as far away as South Korea and the Special Olympics.
I am Noriko from Japan. These are the skates that shaped my life in Canada. My journey started in Toronto—without my consent.
Shortly after I got married in 1993, I became pregnant. I thought it was too soon to be a mom as I was only 24 years old. But I convinced myself it would be just fine, and the baby and I would be best friends forever. The day after my daughter was born, the doctor told me they needed to do some tests. I had to learn a new English word: “chromosome.” Four long weeks later, I was alone at home when the call came.
My daughter had Down Syndrome.
Shock, confusion, disappointment, pain, anger, regret, loneliness, shame. But what I felt most was fear. “Why me? Will she ever walk? Will she ever smile at me?” I read an old Japanese version of Dr. Spock. It said, “Nobody can raise these children; they should be institutionalized; they don’t live long.” They were the scariest thoughts for a new mother in a foreign country.
Meg was a beautiful, healthy baby, except she had an extra chromosome number 21. I didn’t want it to take over my family’s life. So we had a second child the following year and a third two years later. My husband and I were determined to raise all three of our children with equal opportunities and love. In 1997, we moved to Bow Valley for a fresh start.
Figure skating was one of the fun activities I introduced to the girls, including Meg. It didn’t take long to discover Meg’s hidden talent and potential. She couldn’t talk, but she found her way to express herself—on ice. I wasn’t sure if Meg was even capable of standing on the smooth sheet of ice in these stiff boots with thin metal blades. As Meg and I were beginner skaters, we held hands tightly to keep from falling. My back ached, but I didn’t mind. It was pure excitement to see her happy face. Soon, she was skating without my help.
The community gave Meg tremendous support. I found a program with Special Olympics Calgary. I wasn’t sure if I could commit to driving to the city every week, but I checked it out anyway. It was a life-changing trip. One of the athletes, also with Down Syndrome, gave a beautiful, technical performance before my eyes. “This is where Meg belongs. This is where she should be.” I had found her dream—and my mission.
Meg progressed one skill at a time, raising one foot, hopping, spinning and jumping. Then, in February 2013, at age 18, she was on a plane along with other athletes and coaches headed for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
My parents in Japan and I followed her. I couldn’t be near her during the two-week competition, and Meg probably missed hamburgers and my hugs. But she wasn’t even nervous—unlike her family. She embraced her music, the cheers and the spotlight, and she was rewarded with two silver medals. When she came to the spectators’ stands, she proudly put one of the medals around my neck and then went back to the team. I knew Meg would be okay, and therefore, so would I.
Here are Meg’s white skates, waiting for someone to tie them for her. The laces on the boots were touched by many with big hearts—coaches, volunteers and other parents. At the World Games, fellow athletes, who usually required assistance themselves, took pride in helping Meg.
Meg and my journey continue. She is the family’s backbone. Her gentle presence has given us love, strength, inspiration and hope for the future. And, thank you, community. Our family is blessed here.
NORIKO OHSADA immigrated from Japan in 1991 and built a family of three daughters with her husband, Kaoru. She is a Japanese calligraphy artist and works part-time in the accounting field. She is currently exploring her love of writing.